ACTS #4-WAIT!!

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A good portion of life is spent waiting! Have you noticed that? Think back to a universal feeling—you are sitting in a classroom, meeting hall, or driving home and you start to feel your eyes get heavy, not just a little heavy, but more like you have 1 Ton Weight hooked to your eyelids. Nearly every muscle in your body is telling you to sleep, it feels so good, the most satisfying sleep you can imagine, but your brain is telling you what?—as cars go whizzing by—or as your boss glances your direction—as the teacher turns around from the blackboard—That 4-letter word jumps into your head: WAIT, always seemingly standing in between what you and what you want! All throughout life from waiting to get out of school for summer, to waiting for the driver’s license, or waiting to find that special someone, get married, have kids, get a job, get a different job, get a promotion, go on vacation, get enough quarters racked up for Social Security so you can retire, at each stage of life we are forced to WAIT!

The Jews for a few thousand years had been dealing with this idea– from Gen. 3:15 (the promise of the one who would crush the head of the serpent) forward they had been waiting for the Messiah— As we continue in our series Empower through the book of Acts we come to Chapter 1:12-26-where we pick up in the aftermath of the apostles being given the greatest mission in the history of the world, the purpose for their very existence–entrusted to spread the Good News of what they had seen and experienced. Finally after so much has happened the waiting seems to be over: man had sinned, been separated from God, Christ-the Son of God has come—fulfilling the penalty of sin, showing the mercy and grace of God—Christ was crucified on the cross, buried in the tomb, and 3 days later he is resurrected from the dead— not for 1 instance or 1 day, but for 40 days, but to the point where over 500 people see him walking around, interacting, teaching, and eating— Yet just before Jesus ascended into heaven he told them, “Wait—you don’t know when it is coming, but you are going to receive the Holy Spirit!”

It is as the apostles waited to get on with their mission—that we get a clear picture of 3 ways to respond to waiting in our life—whether in triumph or tragedy as part of the ongoing life and foundation of the church.

While they waited it was an opportunity for Obedience. (Acts 1:12-14) 12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk[a] from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. (1500 meters) Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
It is as they are gathered together, persistently praying, and united together that we see this is an opportunity for them to be obedient to Jesus’ command and his example—who each time he faced a major decision, life-event, or season of life marked it by first going to God in prayer—first act of the church. *WHEN IN DELAY—START TO PRAY* It is no coincidence that Dr. Luke happens to list 3 groups who were assembled in the upper room showing the results of waiting in obedience.
1. For the Apostles—it was a time of TRANSITION–who had partaken in the ministry of Christ—with Christ’s ascension-the students became the teachers. Going from frightened to the forerunners—leading a persecuted and illegal religion– from 1st century until 313 AD. (When one season of life is over, and another one is beginning—kids ministry–retired)
2. For Mary the mother of Jesus—it was a time to TESTIFY-after everything she experience, from her teenage years giving birth to Jesus, to what she saw watching Christ crucified—her presence was a testament to her faith in her own son as the Son of God! (Waiting on God builds faith in God)/ as we depend on his timing and plan)
3. For Jesus brothers’- it was a time of TRANSFORMATION–we know from Scripture that Jesus—most likely had 4 brothers and 2 sister—throughout his life his brothers rejected him and yet suddenly the 40 days were enough to transform them. From bullheaded siblings—James, Joseph, Jude and Simon were now part of the body of believers!

It is as they waited—gathering in persistent prayers—seemingly inactive that things were happening. This happened not only in the lives of the 120 gathered in the upper room, but also where Fulton and Williams Street met in the heart of New York City. The year was 1857—wide spread unemployment was rocking the city, railroads were going into bankruptcy, and just as fast as the wealth was dwindling the despair was multiplying! Jeremiah Lamphier—a 40 something, businessman, and Christian felt that the men of the city, engaged in active business could/needed to devote a portion of the time usually given to rest and refreshment at mid-day to devotional purposes.” The first prayer meeting at Noon brought in a total of 6 people, 5 of whom were late, and yet within 6 months 10,000 businessmen were gathering daily in prayer, confession of sins, and conviction of the Holy Spirit. Within two years, one million converts were added to the church, this wasn’t just confessions of faith, this was upwards of a million people being added to the local church. Imagine what that kind of influx does to the vitality of the church? REVIVAL was alive—that while man was praying, God was producing, that while man waited, God worked, and when man is obedient—God is faithful.

Waiting can be viewed a lot of different ways—sometimes as inconvenience or a waste—other times we can blow past the waiting game, by just doing something, anything, even if we do it without knowing what, how, or with whom to partner! Instead waiting obediently can be a time of transition, a time of testifying—something that builds rather than breaks our faith, and a time of transformation—our daily opportunity to be changed by communing with God!

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Acts #3-Mission Possible

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As we continue in the book of Acts, we have seen from Luke the necessity for the church to focus on the life of Jesus, to harness the power of Christ, and finally we see the “so what?”- the call to adopt…

 The Mission of Jesus- (Acts 1:6-11) 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

The power of Christ is meant to be experienced by the followers of Christ!  As his apostles and the disciples of Christ, Dr. Luke makes it clear that the Spirit was meant for a very specific reason- it would be the means of “receiving power” to be witnesses to in Judea and Samaria—to the Jews and the ends of the earth-to a world full of Gentiles.  Yet what does it mean to be a witness? It brings to mind Law and Order or Court T.V. —or if you are a movie buff it may bring to mind “A FEW GOOD MEN”—Jack Nicholson plays a Marine Corp Colonel—on the stand being battered by Tom Cruise, the defense attorney—who is demanding answers, demanding the truth, when finally Nicholson’s character famously screamed out, “YOU CAN”T HANDLE THE TRUTH!” The truth which Dr. Luke reveals is a tough one, that being a witness goes far behind giving testimony and goes to the point of giving your life. He uses a very specific word for witnesses- μάρτυρας—martyrs—someone who gives their life for the mission! Why did Christ give us the power of the Holy Spirit? Not so we could stand motionless staring into the sky after him, but so that we could be empowered to serve like him! So that by our words, witness, by our works, by our very lives, we would be literally dying to self to be raised up like Christ in hopes of bringing others to Christ!

 What you see as the purpose of the church leads directly into what you expect from the church! Sometimes parents will send their children to church hoping it instills moral framework or foundation! Sometimes married couples come to church wanting the spirituality or religious nature to save their marriage! Others come wanting church to be a place of connectivity or a trampoline to hitting their 5, 10 or 15 year personal plan! A place that offers self-actualization or gives motivation with a heavy hand of inspiration- a place to feel good.

 In truth, church is none of those things and each of those things! The church fundamentally, is a place of mission! We are called to take the Good News to the world, but it is the only mission that doesn’t come at the expense of its servants, but instead at their benefit! The church is a place that offers relationship with Jesus Christ first and foremost, and the rest come as result. It is relationship over research, it is imitation over simple admiration, and it is words and works that go together in a holy knot that is impossible to pull apart.

Through the Holy Spirit we find the power to do what alone we would be unable to do—Just as Dr. Luke found an adventure that took him beyond the halls of study into the streets with the Spirit, by following his lead, embracing our Savior, we are empowered to join in a mission that will make history!

Acts #2-Turning on the Power

Dr. Luke took up the task yesterday of playing scholar reminding us that the church exists to point people to Christ, realizing it was impossible to separate Jesus words from his works, but now we move from lecture hall to power house! Seeing that it is all about…

The Power of Jesus (Acts 1:4-5) 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Dr. Luke, shifts from information about Jesus’ life to application for ours! In fact, this was a very personal experience. He didn’t research in an office, library, or sitting in front of a computer to figure out whom Jesus was, but instead he traveled with the Apostle Paul. As Paul worked, Luke worked and wrote, when Paul got beat up or battered, you can imagine the doctor as his side ready to stich him up to keep him moving forward! We are told through church history and early tradition how Luke’s ministry and his work ended-“Having neither wife nor child, he served the Lord without distraction. He feel asleep in Boeotia (Greece) at the age of 84, full of the Holy Spirit”  (www.brittanica.com). For Luke he not only wrote about the power of Christ, but he died full of it- never detracted or turning to the left or right!

Through his experience, the risk of having admiration without moving into imitation comes to the forefront.

I saw this kind of admiration without imitation play out first hand my last year of college. It was while I was finishing a religious studies requirement.  I went to a Lutheran college, took an American Catholicism class, my professor- a bright woman was a well-regarded scholar on the topic of American Catholicism, had been invited to speak at Notre Dame University, flight and travel expenses paid for by the school, given Catholic references, and acclaim—but during the class she made a strange revelation—she is a Quaker! She doesn’t believe in Catholicism, in church doctrine, in church teaching, it is only her professional pursuit! There is clear admiration, without any desire for imitation! She didn’t want it to change her life!

The reason that we struggle sometimes, even in the church, with imitation is because we start looking at Christ like Superman—we say fully God and fully man, but we picture Jesus like Clark Kent—only wearing humanity as the casual day suit over his Superman divinity- constantly going to the phone booth and Superman S underneath–allowing him to do things we all respect- live a sinless life, honoring his parents, serving the poor, fighting off temptation. Yet we need to ask where does Jesus get his power?  Jesus being fully God- had at all times the power to go to his divine attributes; however, he didn’t.  What is amazing is a quick survey of scripture shows that Jesus relied on the same explosive power of the Holy Spirit that is offered to us today:  1. Jesus was conceived by the Spirit 2. Baptized by the Spirit coming down like a dove 3. Led by the Spirit fighting temptation 4. Came into his power via the Spirit 5. Rejoiced in the Spirit 6. Was anointed, empowered and tested by the Spirit!

Jesus whole life on earth is the only full testament to power of the Spirit lived out! Although we may struggle to live perfect lives, we can continually live more empowered lives! We must turn the power on, going from simply admiring what Christ did or said, to the point of imitating how he lived–who he served–and the length to which he went!

Acts #1-The Doctor Is In

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Who is the most famous doctor in the world? At first my mind went to Dr. Suess–“I do not like Green eggs and ham, Sam I am–I will not eat them on a train or on a boat or with a goat,” and then I found out he isn’t a doctor. Bummer. Then my mind went to Dr. Jekyl-the best two part, one man show, but even that gets a bit schizophrenic, so finally I decided maybe you have been following the work of one Dr. Henry Walton Jones, Jr.! With his bullwhip in hand, his hat in place; he has become the world’s most famous archeologist by day and swashbuckling adventurer by night. He has risked his life and legacy to recover the Ark of the Covenant, fight the Nazis, save ancient stones from bloodthirsty cults, and after an extended hiatus or sabbatical he came back older and wiser to take on the Soviets harnessing the mysterious powers of the Crystal skull in an attempt to find the Holy Grail. Who are we describing? Non-other than Indiana Jones. Today we are going to look at the history of the church—Not studying as historians in our ivory towers, but instead in the mold of Indiana Jones, from the library or lecture hall to the land of the unknown, searching for answers as to why our church is here, taking risks, and finding the power to be empowered!

As famous as Indy is or was, today as we embark on an extended sermon series through sections of the book of Acts, we come to an even more influential doctor: Dr. Luke, beginning in his text from Acts 1:1-11, where we will study 3 essentials of Jesus power in order to be empowered ourselves!

As our quest for answers unfolds Luke turns to history not for outdated facts but for an unchanging foundation….He begins making it clear that…

Move #1:(It Centers on Jesus)(Acts 1:1-3) In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. (his presence) He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

Luke begins here by referencing his former book, which is the book of Luke in which he summarizes neatly for us its contents into just a few words, it focused on what Jesus began to do and to teach. Although Luke did not see Jesus first hand, most likely wasn’t even Jewish, he used his training as a doctor to take on the task of historian, meticulously, formally, and articulately– interviewing people who saw Jesus, talked with him, his remaining family, digging into all the available information and documentation. As he is writing again to Theophilus, which means lover of God, someone who like us was searching for truth, he makes clear that where the Book of Luke was all about how Jesus gave his life, the Book of Acts in turn is all about how he gave us his power!  As Luke prepares to give the “Rest of the Story”— he makes it clear that we can’t separate Jesus works (proof) from his words (presence)! That all his power may be noteworthy and exciting—the water into wine, the dead back to life, but the importance is in that they confirm his presence. In fact scripture reveals the purpose behind the miracles, “that you may believe that Jesus is Christ the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in his name. To experience his power, we have to believe in his presence, two coming together in what John Calvin the “holy-knot” of the Incarnation.

The problem comes when we start untying what God has brought together. I sat next to a devote Muslim woman on an airplane. I couldn’t resist asking her where she came down on Jesus. She told me she was a fan of Jesus the prophet, the teacher, the social justice leader, the reformer, but she had no need for Jesus the Savior.  The movement “Good Without God” is going around. Maybe you’ve seen the bumper stickers that are closely related Co-Exist with the symbols of different world religions- [Star of Islam, Ying/Yang of Buddhism, E=m2 for Science, Star of David for Judaism, Open faced cross for paganism, The Twisted Knots of Wican, and the Cross of Christianity!] At times we settle for the influence without the intimacy.

The result of good without God is a model without the motivation, a process without the power, work without any form of worship, it is all the head with none of the heart! Thankfully when the head is fine but the heart is ailing doctors do what is called a cardiac arteriogram—where they inject dye into the arteries and under X-ray doctors can see where the potential blockage may be. In our faith we need a spiritual arteriogram—testing the health of our heart—figuring out where there are blockages between our head and our heart. What disappoints you, what do you complain about, where do you make financial sacrifice?  By reflecting on what we do and how we do it we can start to ensure that our motivation behind our means is worshipping Jesus Christ, instead of just working around him!

Chosen, Gifted, and Authorized for Ministry!

If you have been following along in the GIFTED series, we have seen God call us out of the darkness into light, ensuring that when he calls he also equips, and today all that is left is putting the gift to work. As he…

Authorizes us for ministry- (Exodus 31:6, 11b) 6 Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you… They are to make them just as I commanded you.”

God as he did for Oholiab gives us ability that is in line with his commands. In fact, our giftedness gives us the freedom to do ministry in our own unique way. Christ in the Great Commission gave clear commands, without micromanaging. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit teaching them to obey everything I have commanded. God does not work through us as a computer programmer works on a new piece of software, each an exact replica of the past; instead our unique gifting corresponds to the unique needs of others. Together the diversity of the church is called to reach the diversity of the unchurched. All across the world this manifests itself in unique ways: microloans to single mothers, Heifer International providing animals for family businesses, social justice-feeding, clothing, and healing the sick, a dental clinic, free of charge, in the Red Zone of Baghdad,. Each expression helps spread the love of Christ in a way that is contextualized to the specific needs of the people.

Sir Nicholas George Winton, now 104 found out the power of turning from apathy—to authorized to do ministry! As tensions were building and the Nazis continued to show their aggression, many people shook their heads, made speeches, but few felt empowered to act. Winton, a British humanitarian foreseeing what was happening on the ground began organizing transports for children of mostly Jewish families in Czechoslovakia, getting 669 children permits to London, sometimes legitimate, other times forged knowing the risk of staying. In fact, the risk became real when his ninth scheduled transport and largest carrying 250 children was stopped from leaving with the outbreak of war—none of the children are believed to have survived!

In our authorization, we have the command to serve, but are free to serve in our own unique way. God oftentimes uses our past experiences to meet his future expectations. Oftentimes, it is the simple acts of service which can change lives in ways that we might never know in this life, but can play out for generations to come.

The job of building the church, of sharing the saving message of the Gospel, of growing in our faith is a job that is never over, that at times can seemingly wear us down, appearing too large a task. Yet, it is service which creates an impact that we often don’t get to see, the results which at times can be staring at us from all directions (see the video). As J.B. Lightfoot, scholar and church leader told a group preparing for ministry, “Transport yourselves in thought from the initial to the final inquiry. The great day of inquisition, the supreme moment of revelation, is come. The chief Shepherd, the universal bishop of souls is the questioner…The “Will thou”…is exchanged for the “Hast thou” of the judgment day.” You’ve been chosen! You’ve been gifted! You’ve been authorized! Alone it doesn’t mean you can do everything, but as part of the body it means that doing nothing is no longer an option!

Memorial Day Preview

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(I am preparing to give a Memorial Day talk and would love your thoughts, comments, and feedback on my  rough draft.)

Each year Beloit College comes out with a list of major events which current high school graduates have never lived through or been directly impacted. These events which range from WWII, to the assassination of John F. Kennedy, or more recently to the terrors of September 11th highlight how each passing year events go from firsthand experiences to facts simply read about in a history book. With the passing of time, it can be easy to forget and as we age, it gets harder to remember, but today on Memorial Day, we honor the brave men and women who have sacrificed it all, in order that the horrors of history might fade from the frontlines into the background.

Although we may forget the battles or bloodshed, what is striking is a *Faith Impossible to Forget*-A faith like Abraham’s when he received the call from God, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” It was a commission, to embrace obedience to God, in the midst of the unknown unfolding around him. In many ways it was and is the soldier’s call—to go when called—leaving behind the family farm or big city lifestyle, putting certainty and security on hold in order to meet a need much larger than one person, but impacting the fortunes of all people. They went at a moment’s notice, to unknown danger and uncertain destinations; by air, land or sea “From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli.”

As Abraham left the land of his forefathers, he went with the promise of God ringing in his ears- ““I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing…”Yet there was more than one occasion where the promise seemed more like wishful thinking than solid footing, when the man who was supposed to make a great nation was without a single heir.  As God faithfully worked he revealed that fulfillment of promises sometimes don’t happen in a lifetime, but through a legacy. It is through Abraham’s faithfulness to the promise that preceding generations were able to know its fulfillment. As our soldiers go off to war, they do so with the promise of peace ringing in their ear. That each time a soldier fights for justice, seeks to set free the oppressed, or rescue the persecuted they have contributed to a *Legacy Worth Remembering.* That although a war may rage, while widows receives the news, and the path is left littered with wreckage, the ultimate sacrifice is a contribution to a fulfillment of an ideal that although not experienced in their lifetime is passed along as a legacy to the living! As we gather here today in freedom, we do so as a testament to those who freely gave it all!  

As President Lincoln so succinctly added, “The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us-that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion-that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain-that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom-and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

Although Lincoln looked for a government that would not perish, Christ revealed as he prepared to die, “Greater love has no one than this that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” Just like the soldiers whose names are marked on the monument in this very park or soldiers whose names our marked only in our hearts and minds humbled themselves by laying down their lives in service, Jesus similarly highlights that when our words our forgotten all that is left is a *Humility worth Honoring.* A humility which Jesus Christ went beyond describing and instead lived out by dying on the cross in order that the ultimate promise of eternal peace for each of us might be realized.

Three years after WWI, six soldiers were sent back to France for a special assignment. Outside the chapel at Chalons-sur-Marne the soldiers were told that inside were four caskets with the bodies of four nameless American soldiers. Their special assignment was to bring home the nameless soldiers, picking one casket to rest in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, to represent all those brave men who died so our country could remain free. While the world will most assuredly not hear what is said here today, it is when we the living, take the time not only to remember those who have perished, but go farther by nobly advancing the humility they displayed—in good times or bad, in prosperity or under persecution, that we bring the nameless or forgotten soldier home ensuring their legacy will be one the world will never forget.

When God Calls, He Also Equips

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Last time we looked at how God has chosen us, making us into a people when we were orphans and lost. Yet with the overwhelming project before us it is critical that we find the means to complete the mission. Thankfully, When God Calls, He Also Equips by

Gifting us for ministry- (Exodus 31:3) and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills—

Listen to God speak about the people he brought together—giving them wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and skills that were specific for the project before them! Our God is not distant, far-removed, or uninterested in his people, in fact, he is like a faithful parent—like the mother who follows the school bus in her van to make sure everything goes fine on the first day. It is because God is active in our lives, that our lives can actively be changed! James 1:17-18a-17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth…that through Jesus Christ we could be made clean and then be restored into His likeness.

Yet the choice to give birth is not always an easy one. For a New York mother, Elizabeth Joice it was the ultimate gift of all. In 2010, Elizabeth was diagnosed with cancer after surgery and four intense round of chemotherapy. In fact, they were so intense that the doctors told Elizabeth and her husband Max that having children would be impossible and yet in spite of their predictions in the summer of 2013 she became pregnant. One month later she got news that the cancer returned. She had 3 options: abort the baby, continue with the pregnancy and do chemo putting the baby at risk, or forego treatment and put herself at risk. Joice chose the latter. “Joice was due in March, but doctors delivered baby Lily by Caesarian section in January to begin treatment as soon as possible. But it was too late. The cancer had taken its toll, but not before she had the opportunity to bond with the baby girl she fought so hard to save. Joice died on March 9th, with her husband by her side. (New York Post)

Just as Elizabeth gave Lily the ultimate gift of life through even if it meant her death, that in the face of what appears to be the Worst News imaginable we find the Good News. That God’s concern for his creation went so deep, like a mother’s for her child, that he sent his own Son to give up his life in order that we could have new life. Rejecting the idea of aborting us, or putting us at even greater risk, but instead offering us salvation through His sacrifice.  Meaning like any gift–the price has already been paid. That you can’t earn the glories of heaven, they are free, but far from cheap. It is in response to such a gift that we are made ambassadors to begin to restore the beauty of creation marred by the sin of the serpent.